Derrick Favors said he’s never seen anything like this. Jonas Jerebko said he was in Italy the last time he played on a team with such significant improvement over a short period of time.
A little over two weeks ago, the Utah Jazz looked dead in the water. They fell to 6-10 with a double-digit loss to the Brooklyn Nets. There was no life that night, no spark, no Rudy Gobert and not much hope. Jazz fans on Twitter and other forms of social media were calling for the team to tank the remainder of the season for a good pick in the upcoming draft.
After Monday night’s 116-69 demolition of the Washington Wizards at Vivint Smart Home Arena, there’s little doubt the Jazz are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They’ve won six consecutive games. They are an efficient machine on both ends of the floor. Yes, the schedule turns brutal for the remainder of December. But the Jazz are playing their best basketball at the right time.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this,” Favors said. “I’ve been on teams that have won a few then lost a few. But this is something I haven’t experienced.”
A straw poll of Utah’s locker room attributes the recent success to chemistry — these players genuinely likes each other — and being comfortable on the floor.
When Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey put this team together, he did so with depth in mind. The Jazz went 7-4 in Gobert’s absence. More important, they established an offensive identity, which had been missing at the beginning of the year.
On Monday night, Gobert returned. Utah’s elite defense returned — the Wizards shot 28 percent from the field — and the newfound offense was terrific once again. The Jazz shot 56 percent from the field overall, a season high. They made 16 3-pointers, had 29 assists and did so without a starter playing over 26 minutes.
Offensively, Utah did what it wanted. Defensively, a Washington team without point guard John Wall couldn’t find consistent space.
“It’s fun to play when we share the ball offensively and everyone takes care of things defensively like we do,” Gobert said. “It’s fun and it’s hard for other teams to play against. I think we’ve learned how to play together and how to play this style of basketball. The ball is always moving and we’re becoming difficult to guard.”
The evidence lies in the statistics. After Monday night’s win, the Jazz are one of only five teams in the NBA with a top-10 offense and defense. They have 11 homecourt wins, which ties them for the league lead. They are 13-11 overall and have won seven of their last eight games.
Obviously, we played really well,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We caught them on a rough shooting night, which makes it hard. I think we really came out with the right mindset defensively. When we do that, the offense is just easier and the ball moved.”
Shooting guard Alec Burks led the Jazz with a game-high 27 points, his third consecutive game scoring at least 20. Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field. It’s his ninth 20-point game of the season, which leads all rookies. Defensively, Mitchell was instrumental in holding Wizards’ star guard Bradley Beal to 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Rookie forward Royce O’Neale scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out six assists. He also recorded a game-high plus-35 in 25 minutes. Steady veteran Joe Ingles scored 11 points and made a trio of 3-pointers.
Every Jazz player scored on Monday night. Utah’s largest lead was 47 points, and Monday marked the fourth time in franchise history the Jazz have beaten a team by at least 45 points.
“It’s a credit to our defense,” O’Neale said. “We were locked in from the jump. The defense led to easy baskets and we just moved the ball on offense. It made it easier for us.”